Any little shadows of doubts I still had about how the E Street Band would work without Clarence Clemons were erased last night at the Apollo Theater, their first full performance since the Big Man left us last summer. It’s not that the very capable five-man horn section led by Clarence’s nephew Jake replaced him – no one could do that. But the band sounded sweet and strong, even with that crucial element missing. And what has Bruce’s music been for the last 30-plus years if not a guide to surviving life’s tragedies big and small?
Early on, Springsteen introduced everyone on stage in typical carnival-barker style, then asked, “Are we missing anybody?” Well, yes. But it was okay. “If you’re here and we’re here, then they’re here,” he promised. The night’s most moving moment came toward the end, during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” When they reached the classic line about the Big Man’s arrival, the whole band dropped out and Bruce stopped singing. There was dead silence for a brief split-second, then deafening cheers for what felt like minutes. Bruce waved his hands to whip up louder and louder applause, a titanic roar in Clarence’s memory. Then they kept playing.